Barbados has formally separated with the British royal family after 396 years of colonial reign. Queen Elizabeth is no longer the country’s head of state, with Barbados being declared a republic.
On 12 October, former governor general Sandra Mason was jointly nominated by prime minister Mia Mottley and leader of the opposition as candidate for the first president of Barbados.
She was elected on 20 October and took office on 30 November.
Crowds gathered in the capital, Bridgetown, to watch the removal of the Royal Standard flag from Heroes Square. Celebrations included dancing, music and fireworks.
Barbados’ new president Mason addressed the celebrations, saying, “The time has come to fully leave our colonial past behind,” despite the attendance of Prince Charles.
Johnathan Cumberbatch is an anti-colonial activist in Barbados. He told Socialist Worker, “I have a feeling of jubilation—especially after the ceremonies.
“The time was long overdue to end being a British Commonwealth realm.”
British rule of Barbados began in the 1620s. In the name of the British Empire, settlers transformed the island into a sugar producing slave colony.
The eventual end of slavery across the bloody empire was won in 1834 through a series of slave rebellions.
In Barbados some 400 slaves rose up against their colonial masters in the 1816 Bussa Rebellion—nine years after the slave trade had been abolished. Around 50 enslaved people died in battle and 70 were executed. Another 300 were taken to Bridgetown for trial, of which 144 were executed and 132 sent away to another island.
The revolt led to two more uprisings to end slavery in British colonised Caribbean islands in Jamaica and Guyana.
Johnathan views Barbados’ new status as a republic as a great step forward. But he thinks the legacy of colonialism still has a major impact across the Caribbean.
“The issues left vary from country to country,” he explained. “The biggest issues that are facing Barbados relate to debt and public health. “The public health aspect would relate to the high incidence of certain diseases among the local population.
“It is a direct legacy from the poor nutrition that was carried out during colonialism.”
Cutting ties with the royal family and the British Empire has given Barbadians hope for a fresh start.
But Johnathan warns that the new republican state isn’t the end of the fight.
“People need to be wary of imperialism of all forms,” he said. “The move to republican status is a mixed bag of emotions. I have a feeling of jubilation but also the realisation that hard work begins anew.”
Johnathan argued the class divide in Barbados is widening, meaning workers’ fights must continue to challenge this.
He added, “Parliament has been used as a tool of oppression and exploitation, now it’s a tool of liberation.”
And he emphasised workers needing to “assert their rights”.
For socialists this has to mean building class unity and pushing for strikes to win change, rather than waiting for parliamentary reforms.
In 1966 Barbados declared independence five years after full internal self-government.
The Democratic Labour Party (DLP) was elected. It was the more left wing of two social democratic parties.
The Barbados Labour Party (BLP) had been founded in 1938. Politicians who wanted swifter moves to independence broke off from the BLP and founded the DLP in 1955.
DLP leader Errol Barrow became the country’s first prime minister.
Independence meant the queen ceased to have sovereignty over Barbados, but the island chose to remain a constitutional monarchy.
The monarch was represented locally by a governor-general—elected by the Queen on advice of the prime minister.
Barbados’ parliament—split between the 30 seat House of Assembly and 21 seat Senate—is dominated by the BLP.
The BLP, despite fighting for a republic, doesn’t want a complete break from Britain.
Although ceasing to have the queen as head of state, Barbados will remain part of the Commonwealth made up of former colonial territories.
The removal of the queen as head of state hasn’t been done by an insurgent battle from below. Mainstream politicians hope it will make them more popular and soothe dissent from the people.
But class issues in Barbados will remain.
Campaigners with the Caribbean Movement for Peace and Integration (CMPI) and the 13th June 1980 Group were forced by the government to cancel a protest against prince Charles.
CMPI general secretary David Denny said, “We should not honour a family who murdered and tortured our people.”
Friendly ties to the royal family from the government show that just as in other countries, parliament doesn’t represent the class interests of ordinary people.
And despite republican status the BLP wants to keep British influence on the island.
President of Barbados Sandra Mason even awarded prince Charles the country’s highest honour.
Both of their speeches outlined how republicanism is a new possibility for relations to continue.
Charles’ speech was acclaimed for simply acknowledging that slavery was a horror.
Republicanism is an important step in the fight for liberation.
But the upcoming fight requires more action from below to break colonial ties properly.
Anti-racists in Barbados and Britain are also fighting for reparations as justice for the horrors of empire.
Dorset Stand Up To Racism has been campaigning for the Drax family who built their fortune through slavery in Barbados to hand their estate to the people of Barbados.
Johnathan believes reparations “would go a long way to helping us fix some systemic issues left by colonialism.
“Reparations would include things like technology transfers, a full apology for the acts committed and educational aid,” he added. “Technology could be particularly useful in the fight against climate change.”
Reparations are an attempt to make up for the bloody past of slavery.
But resulting racial inequalities won’t all disappear with a package of reforms or apologies.
Racism is structural, so the solutions of reparations won’t be able to overcome class or racial divisions. True liberation has to be won by oppressed people fighting from below.
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